The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

Mentoring Room

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This is a Public Topic geared towards first-time filmmakers. Professional members of The D-Word will come by and answer your questions about documentary filmmaking.

Friederike Freier

Doug, arte is more relaxed about credits. Especially La Lucarne. With ARD member stations or ZDF's main programme it is very often an issue. Most of the time the complaint is that credits run for too long.

Erica Ginsberg

Monica, check out Directing the Documentary by Michael Rabiger. It's not exclusively about interviewing, but he does give some very good tips.

Monica Williams

Thanks for the advice on interviewing! One more question - What is the best way to approach and engage advisors? I know who I would like to ask, I'm just concerned about their workload. What is the relationship like between filmmaker and advisor? What can I ask them to expect? They will most likely be interviewed for the film, but I can't promise anything.

Katya Myer

Dear Monica,

I have three advisors for my film, all professors whose field of inquiry is relevant to my subject matter. Usually, all you have to do is just ask, and if the person is interested, they'll be happy to help. In my experience, a professor who's accumulated a lot of knowledge in the area your asking for advice in will usually be glad to get involved and share their expertise.

In building the relationship with an advisor, I assume that the onus of the work and the contact maintenance is on me. Even in some intense research situations, I usually don't need to speak to my advisors more than once/twice a month. In my case, the best value an advisor can provide is an assessment of how valid my research conclusions are and whether my presentation of various topics in the film is consistent with their historical setting, etc. Out of three advisors I have, I only plan to interview one for the film. Hope this helps. Best of luck with your work!

Katya Myer

Dear All,

I am new to this forum and have a few questions to ask. My current project is a full-feature documentary about Israel. I have done my preliminary research, made an 12-minute long promo for fundraising, assembled a crew (a DP and a sound engineer) and will start filming in two weeks. My main camera is HVX200, and here are the questions I have:

1. What is the best way to archive HD footage? Is it possible to burn it on blue-ray or HD-DVD disks and not keep stored on hard drives? I expect to have a lot of footage to store, and carrying around several terabytes of drive space can be daunting.

2. Even though I have a DP, I hope to do some filming work myself. Could you suggest any books, tutorials or other resources to read about camera work?

3. Could you suggest a minimal lighting package that would be portable enough to be carried by one person, along with the camera?

Look forward to your advice!

John Burgan

1) I'll let the HD experts step in here, but I think you'll find that cost-wise hard drives will work out cheaper than burning to disks. Have you actually done a calculation on how much space you will need?

2) Hmmmm. Why not just let your DP get on with their job? Books won't tell you how to shoot, and it doesn't sound like this is meant to be just an exercise.

David Felix Sutcliffe

My film is about Adama Bah, one of two 16-year-old Muslim girls from New York who were arrested by the FBI in 2005 after they were accused of being "potential suicide bombers." The FBI made no attempts to reveal what evidence they had on these girls and only released them after the New York Times published a series of articles about the 2 girls that led to intense scrutiny and public pressure. One girl was deported, and the other-the subject of my film-was allowed to stay, albeit, with an ankle bracelet and a gag order.

For the past two years her life has pretty much unravelled-her father was deported, her mother has suffered several nervous breakdowns, children's services is constantly threatening to place Adama's four younger siblings in foster homes. The government is now also trying to deport her. On top of this, Adama has been forced to become the primary breadwinner for the family. Her friends all graduated last spring and left for college this past fall (her best friend is at Smith right now) as Adama works, what she calls, "immigrant jobs-" babysitting, house-cleaning, etcetera.

I'm looking for an executive producer (as well as editors) and wondering if there's any interested parties out there, or someone who might be willing to pass on contact info of a good EP/editor fit. I've been shooting for almost two years and am ready to begin post-production. As far as fundraising, I have a fiscal sponsor and am preparing my grant applications, but would like to have a partner help me secure a reasonable budget. This is my first-time working on a full-length documentary and although I've been tempted to downsize it and produce it as a 30 minute piece, I think the story demands to be given at least an hour, if not feature length. My editor is based in California and hasn't been able to work much with me, and is eagerly waiting for funding to come through so he can come to New York and get to work. In the meantime, I'm looking for a New York based editor to help me with my sample. (So far, the sample seems to get such a wide range of responses that I think it's time to begin a new approach. Maybe I could post it here and see what people think...)

Anyway, I know this is a lot to put out there but I thought it would be best to put it all in one place rather than attempt to think of all the relevant topics where these issues could be posted. I would be supremely grateful for any advice veteran doc bystanders are willing to sling my way.


Christopher Wong

david, your doc sounds fascinating, and definitely deserving of more than a 30-minute treatment. it really helped me out on my doc to get an executive producer on board... before you proceed, however, have you answered the question of where you want the piece to be broadcast? On PBS? Theatrical? Non-PBS TV? This will dictate what kind of grants you go after, and thus, what kind of EPs will be best for your project. For instance, my EP is Renee Tajima-Pena who has done extensive work with POV, which is exactly the place I want it to air after festivals, theatrical, etc.

Katya Myer

In reply to John Burgan's post on Mon 12 Nov 2007 :

Dear John,

Thank you for your response. You are right, it's definitely not meant to be just an exercise :) I will need approximately 2.5 terabytes of storage space.

With respect to the shooting, I agree too - the only problem is that I want the film to have a very specific visual atmosphere and so far my DP and I haven't reached a complete agreement on it. Also, I won't be able to have the DP with me every day and sometimes I go to places in Israel where one just needs to pick a camera and capture a unique moment. I wanted to try and prepare myself for that as best I can.

Thank you for the advice!

David Felix Sutcliffe

I really love the extensive work that PBS has done to create a strong web-partnership with their films, and although it would be great to have a more mainstream tv audience (via HBO, Cinemax, etcetera) I think PBS has such a strong outreach program that the issues I'm addressing in the film will have a real landing pad, and a chance to significantly and substantially affect an audience, rather than briefly triggering a flash of guilt/sympathy/pity in people's frontal lobes, as seems to be the case with mainstream films that make a splash but aren't sustained by any broader effort to create change.
That said, I think I'm aiming for PBS as well after festivals (and, hopefully, theatrical release). How did you make contact with your EP?